Speech on M-100 Role of Co-Operatives

February 15, 2017

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to thank the member for Brossard—Saint-Lambert for bringing this important motion forward.

It is my pleasure to rise today as chair of the multi-party co-op caucus to highlight not only the economic benefits that co-operatives provide, but also the leadership on social issues and environmental challenges addressed by these innovative enterprises.

The economic impact of co-operatives and mutuals is clear. With approximately 9,000 co-operatives and mutuals employing almost 190,000 Canadians, the co-operative sector remains a key segment of the Canadian economy.

According to data collected by the Government of Canada in 2012, there are 8,000 non-financial co-operatives across Canada with a total business volume of almost $40 billion. It is clearly time to develop in consultation with provincial land territorial governments, indigenous peoples, the co-operative sector, and other governments a federal and co-operative strategy to promote Canada’s co-operative sector.

Co-ops exist in a number of sectors of the economy including wholesale and retail, agriculture, housing, construction, manufacturing, and fishing and hunting, to name a few.

In 2012, Canada’s co-operatives had almost eight million memberships and had paid out $607 million in dividends to their members and to their communities.

The co-operative model also places an emphasis on key values like democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity.

I am particularly proud to stand in support of the motion as Guelph is home to almost 100 co-operatives, many of them incorporated federally. These include the Co-operators, Gay Lea Foods, Organic Meadow, and the Guelph Campus Co-op just to name a few.

The Co-operators is an excellent example of one of Guelph’s leading businesses. It leads in economic activity, is one of Guelph’s leading employers, and also leads in economic returns. At the same time, it champions social and environmental sustainability. The Co-operators is registered as a B corporation and has led the way for many other Guelph companies to become B corps.

Another great example is Organic Meadow Co-op, first opened in 1989 by six organic farmers. They began their co-op to create a totally new food system that would deliver high quality, certified organic, local food to consumers.

These organizations operate based on seven internationally established principles including concern for community and are global leaders in accomplishing U.N sustainability goals.

Whether generating economic opportunities for new Canadians or providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities, co-operatives are addressing a number of complex social challenges.

Perhaps nowhere is that social benefit more clear than in the area of affordable housing. According to a recently published study, more than 40%of all non-financial co-operatives operate in real estate, particularly as housing co-ops.

It is estimated that some 2,300 housing co-operatives across the country provide more than 96,000 housing units. This represents 250,000 Canadians who currently live in a co-operative home.

Housing co-operatives, which can range from small buildings to large apartment complexes, are democratic communities where the residents decide how the co-ops operate. The mission of these co-operatives is simple; to help members find suitable and affordable housing.

The cost of their housing will only increase when operating costs increase, which ensures low-income households living in co-ops continue to have access to affordable housing.

That is why budget 2016 introduced $574 million to renovate and undertake energy and water efficiency retrofits of the aging social housing stock, including co-operative housing.

As of January 15, more than 48,000 social housing units in some 1,000 co-op and non-profit housing projects were slated to benefit from this funding. It is clear that housing co-operatives play a central role in Canada.

I will now turn to another set of challenges the co-operative model is being used to address, which is the unique health and other social services needs that exist in our communities.

It is estimated that more than 500 co-operatives across the country provide tailored health services, day care, or home care. Health care co-ops can take a variety of forms, including those that are made up of health care providers or patients and community or a hybrid of the two. Whether providing home care to seniors and people with disabilities, or employment opportunities for people who experience barriers to employment, co-ops are providing crucial health and social services.

I want to bring to the attention of members one such co-operative in Newfoundland. The North Shore Central Ambulance Co-operative provides ambulance services on the north shore of Trinity Bay. Through collective action and community ownership, this co-operative has been able to maintain high-quality ambulance services directly to the community.

The co-operative model also presents a unique economic development opportunity for new Canadians. Indeed, co-ops provide them with networks in their community, training opportunities related to business skills and leadership, and a variety of professional development opportunities. Co-operatives that achieve these goals operate in a variety of sectors and meet a variety of needs for newcomers, including education, health care, financial services, and the arts.

Renewable energy co-ops are another great example of Canadians using the flexibility of the co-op model to achieve shared environmental objectives. These businesses integrate co-op principles, such as democratic decision-making and collective outcomes, and direct them towards the creation of renewable energy. We have a few of those in my home town of Guelph, and they are really doing well.

While most of Canada’s renewable energy co-ops are currently located in Ontario, it is a concept that is gaining popularity across the country due to its success. Therefore, I encourage all members of the House to support this motion.

In conclusion, I would like to thank my colleague for tabling this motion, which not only demonstrates the role co-operatives are playing in Canada’s economy, but continues the work of our good friend, the late Mauril Bélanger, who was such a staunch advocate of the co-op movement, past chair of the caucus, and a champion for so many Canadians in so many ways.

I would love to see this motion move forward and have success for the benefit of our country.